PHILADELPHIA — With the Nets set to face former teammate James Harden for the first time since he forced last month’s trade, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant aren’t sure they could’ve said or done anything to change his mind about leaving.
On the eve of Thursday’s reunion, a matchup with the 76ers, the remaining two-thirds of what should’ve been a historic Brooklyn Big 3 insisted there are no hard feelings. Irving just said he got too many mixed messages and too little real talk and communication.
“I was coming in late into things, and I was told one thing and then told another thing, and then trade deadline comes up and now it’s a whole different situation,” Irving said. “Now I’m answering questions about what happened, or whether or not things could’ve gone better or not. I don’t have a timeline of whether or not things could have gone better or not.
“I thought we were in a good swing. But everybody has their own visions starting off seasons, everybody has their own visions starting off their careers and ending their careers. If that’s what James wanted, then I respect his decision and that’s just what it is. I wish him nothing but peace and love. We have a great friendship, but it didn’t work out. I wish things could have been communicated better for all of us as men, but hey, no hard feelings here with me or anyone else.”
Multiple sources said Harden consistently told the Nets everything was fine, but let his disenchantment be known outside the team. And he confirmed at last month’s introductory 76ers press conference that Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated (and thus become a full-time player) played a role.
Irving felt Harden could’ve been clearer with the team about how he felt, but also took some responsibility in the situation — in terms of communication, not vaccination.
“It’s organization, so all of us communicating. We’re all responsible for it,” Irving said. “It’s great for the league to build up things like this, but we have a group in our locker room where we just want to be mature going into Philly, handling business and moving on.”
For his part, Durant echoed the sentiment of moving on. He also said he’s not certain there’s anything that could’ve convinced Harden to stay long term.
“I don’t know,” Durant said. “When you look at it from his perspective, and you look up and Ky’s not playing, and then I’m injured, he hasn’t won a championship before so he’s looking at — he’s 32 years old, I guess — he’s looking at himself, wanting to make a decision to get on a team that can kind of get into that contending, being one of the last teams standing.
“So if you look at it from his perspective, you could say it is what it is. You can’t really control how somebody feels when they’re thinking like that. Hopefully he stays healthy and their team stays healthy, we stay healthy, we have a great year, they have a great year, and we just move on from this.”
Harden didn’t speak at Wednesday’s practice. Sixers coach Doc Rivers said, “It’s obviously a different game with what’s gone on.” He added this series has had a little extra on the court even before the trade.
“It’ll be a different feeling to play against him soon after the trade, but exciting,” Nets coach Steve Nash said.
Durant channeled a been-there, done-that vibe regarding facing Harden. He said there was a time he would’ve been extra excited to face a recently traded teammate, but now he just wants the victory.
“When I was younger, 22, 23, you see a guy that just got traded and your emotions are everywhere. You don’t know how you’re going to approach the game, because it feels like a big game because you’re playing against one of your former teammates,” Durant said. “But it is what it is. It’s just another game for us.
“We’re looking to win and they’re looking to win. … I know James was here and he built some relationships with a couple people here, but at the end of the day we’re looking to go out there and hoop.”